A PC isn't just for surfing the Web and writing your CV on -- they're also quite good for running 3D games. Unfortunately, PC technology moves so quickly it's almost impossible to stay up to date with the latest components. A high-end computer bought six months ago may now be rendered relatively obsolete -- so how do you avoid buying a complete gaming turkey this Christmas?
The first thing you'll need to consider when buying a gaming desktop is what type of processor it uses. Many argue that the current king of the gaming CPU roost is AMD, and for good reason. Its Athlon 64 processors are faster than their Pentium 4 counterparts. If you're serious about gaming, the top of the range FX-55 and FX-57 processors provide unmatched gaming horsepower.
The other major factor in a gaming desktop is the graphics card. Presently there are only two manufacturers worth considering: ATI and Nvidia. Neither is clearly better than the other at producing cards, as they consistently play a game of performance leapfrog every six months or so.
If you want the absolute best of the best, you'll need to look for a PC that uses an Nvidia 6800 or 7800 series graphics card, or something from the ATI X850 or X1800 range. There are many factors that affect a card's performance, but as a rough guide, you can judge their approximate performance by looking at its clock speed and number of pixel shader pipelines. Memory is also an important factor, but marginally less so once you get above 256MB. You can view detailed specifications of graphics cards from their respective manufacturers' Web sites.
All the aforementioned graphics cards can run in dual-card configurations. Nvidia uses what is referred to as a Serial Link Interface (SLI), while ATI's take on the technology known as Crossfire. Both have slightly different implementations, but both will typically yield far better frame rates than a single card, particularly at high resolutions.
Finally, you'll have to give serious thought to the type of monitor that accompanies your gaming desktop. If you're serious about gaming, you can forget about 17- and 19-inch TFT displays straight away. The vast majority of these have a native resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels -- to get the most out of your expensive new graphics card and CPU, you'll want to run games at a resolution of at least 1,600x1,200 pixels. For this, you'll need an ordinary CRT monitor, or a TFT screen larger than 20 inches.